The Mark of the Vampire Queen (Chapter Three)

They'd walked through the forest together, naked like a gothic Adam and Eve. Jacob's arm had rested across her shoulders, his hand tangled in her hair so he could hold her close. The night had seemed heavy with the presence of supernatural creatures, the most powerful one being the vampire queen walking with him. A low-level hum in all his senses created a tingling in his vitals, a simmering in his blood he was sure were effects of his new third mark. Her slim arm was around his waist, her palm on his bare hip. Periodically, she lifted her touch to his back to trace the visible evidence of the mark, a scar that looked like the prehistoric fossil of a serpent, twisting from the nape of his neck to the base of his spine. A reminder of her claim on him. A reminder of what he'd will- ingly surrendered. The first mark had given her the ability to track him geographi- cally. The second mark had allowed her access to his mind whenever she desired it. With the third mark, he'd given her his soul. He was bound to his vampire Mistress on every level now, a full human ser- vant. Getting there had been a rough road, despite the fact he'd come into her ser vice only a short handful of weeks ago.

Before that, he'd trained to be her servant, tutored under the hand of her dying ser- vant, Thomas. Because that had been done without her knowledge or consent, she'd resisted Jacob's introduction at first. In the end, with nothing but Thomas's sealed recommendation, Jacob's own determi- nation and something perhaps a lot bigger than any one of them, they'd reached this point. When she stumbled, he realized shapeshifting from her Fey form back to vampire, a unique ability only known to him, had overtaxed the body that was more fragile than it should be. With barely a pause in stride, he lifted her. Accepting it, she linked her arms around his neck and laid her cheek on his chest, her face nestled under his jaw. Her nose tilted up to rub against the smooth trim of his beard. "I want a bath, Jacob. I want you to bathe me. Prepare the water the way you did that first night you came. With the rose and laven- der petals. The candles. " Bringing her lips to his throat, she scraped a sharp fang over him as he automatically lifted his chin, giving her access. The mus- cles in his stomach contracted at the surge of arousal. Not only did her lightest touch stimulate his now heightened senses, she'd opened her mind to his. Since he'd received the second mark he'd been able to hide little from her, but she could shield her thoughts from him at will. So her willingness to be open to him, at least for tonight, added fuel to the fire between them. He saw the provocative images in her mind, the twining of limbs, parted lips, flesh straining against flesh. He also saw in the erotic swirl of her thoughts that she liked the way he offered his throat without hesitation to her, that it never failed to arouse her. When he gave her back a few images of his own, she covered his lips with her mouth, her tongue sweeping in to meet the demanding pressure of his. As she drew back, her lashes fell over her eyes in a half-lidded expression he knew signaled a mood to torment him. "You're going to wash me as a good servant would. Pretend to be a eunuch who cares only that his Mistress is clean and well cosseted, her sore muscles massaged, her skin perfumed and moisturized.

In case she decides to entertain a lover tonight. And of course, you'll stand in the corner and watch. " "Your hair brushed until it's like silk, " he agreed mildly. My hands threading through it to caress your neck, your shoulders. I'll rub oil into your breasts and slick it down your stomach, massaging it into the lips of your cunt for that lover you anticipate taking to your bed. He'll ease into you like butter. He kept his pace toward the house casual, sauntering, playing her game instead of breaking into a sprint. She'd appreciate his restraint, even as she'd try to make him lose it, just to say she'd won. His lady was not a gracious loser. Loser? He stifled a grin at the miffed thought. "Like butter?" She spoke the words now, arching a brow. "Oh, I don't think there's enough lubricant for that. My lover has a very big cock. Long and thick. When it pushes into me, there's always pain with the pleasure of taking it. " Her voice became a sultry purr, amusement swallowed by the unrestrained lust in her glittering green eyes. "The way I like it. " When she freed one hand from his neck to reach down between them, Jacob stifled a curse as she found him. Closing her hand over his steel length, she let her thumb pass over the still damp tip. "Just remember, Sir Vagabond. You're my faithful eunuch until I say oth- erwise. " As he emerged from the forest preserve into the more landscaped area of the backyard, they found the dogs waiting for them. Her pack of Irish wolfhounds lay in the grass or sat, eyes shining in the night, the moon gleaming off teeth revealed by their panting. Bran stood just ahead of the pack, the lead wolfhound's pale body a ghost in the moonlight. "They've had quite a run tonight. " "We all have. " She tightened her arms on his shoulders and he returned the gesture, raising her, her soft curves pressing into his hard ones. Once in her bedroom, he laid her on the bed before he moved into the bathroom to prepare the bath according to her specifica- tions. He kept a discreet eye on her as he performed the tasks. Despite her seductive flirting, she closed her eyes, her face turning to the pil- low as she let some of her weariness have her.

Because of that, when he had the bath prepared, he came back to carry her to the tub. She lifted her arms, no argument again. He made a conscious effort to keep his mind away from the question of whether she would've had the energy to walk back to the house on her own. This night was not going to be about that. She'd given him the third mark. He'd be her legs, her arms, whatever she needed him to be forever. No matter what, she'd never be alone. When he put her in the tub where she could sit propped up in the corner and stepped in to begin her bath, she ran her hand up his hard thigh, tracing the musculature there. Obedient to her wishes, he didn't interfere with her casual fondling, though his cock jumped in response. Reaching for the shower sprayer, he switched the water flow to wet her hair. She closed her eyes as he went to one knee be- fore her. His hand moved over her scalp, the heated water running over her face. She tilted her chin, and he adjusted the spray appropri- ately to avoid getting it into her nose. Thanks to Thomas, her previ- ous servant, he was well trained in the domestic arts. Thanks to the gods, he somehow managed to please her as a lover. He shampooed her hair and then, still kneeling, he used the pitcher on the side of the tub to rinse her. The silken strands of her hair floated in the water around her arms. They gathered around the curves of her breasts. When he pressed a hand towel to her face, he combed her hair back with his fingers, allowing her to open her eyes at length without having to blink a drop away from her long lashes. She retrieved the soap from his hands and washed his chest, the curves of his pectorals, pinching his nipples. Running her palms over the wide expanse of his shoulders, she followed the line of silken chest hair down over his sectioned stomach muscles, watch- ing his cock rise high enough to brush his belly in response to her caress. He knew that touching him this way, knowing what he was thinking as well as seeing his physical response, intensified her reac- tion. She could see the things he wanted to do to her. She scraped him with her nails, a little shudder running through her own mus- cles.

Not the thoughts of a eunuch, Sir Vagabond. A dead man would have such thoughts, my lady, if given the privi- lege of bathing with you. As he well knew, the ability to chastise him for not playing her game exactly as she ordered only sharpened the edge of her lust. She gave him some of her fantasies of punishment even now, his arms and legs restrained while she taunted him with her mouth, punc- tured him with her fangs. Used a whip to mark his flesh and then soothed it with her fingertips, the press of her lips. Two could play it this way. He guided her to her feet to wash the parts he'd been unable to do under the waterline. Standing up be- hind her, he cupped her breasts, rubbing the nipples between his fingers so she arched into his touch while he pressed against her, his very non-eunuch cock prodding her buttocks. With the soap sliding into that channel, it was easy for him to rub himself there, and in his mind he showed her his desire to grasp her cheeks in both hands and bring himself to climax just doing that. But instead he turned her so he could kneel and run soap-slicked hands under the curves of her breasts, over her belly, down to her thighs and calves. Picking up the pitcher, she poured water over his head, then let the pitcher float away as she ran her hands over his skull, threaded her fingers through his hair. When he lifted his face at her insistent touch, she followed the almond curve of his eyes, sluicing away the water so he could raise his lashes. It is odd, Jacob. I feel as if I've done this before . . . Like dj vu. She did it again, more slowly, but apparently the image was too elusive and the desire to simply touch him washed the other concern out of her gaze. So he continued his ministrations, one arm around her hips as he gently put his hand between her legs to wash her pussy. Opening her stance in response, she bit her lip as he cleaned and stimulated at once, massaging her clit with clever fingers. With her mind open to him, he could see how tired she was, yet her body was in a pleasant yearning mode. Caught between wanting some kind of release and wanting to stay like this, touched and teased by him forever.

Her servant. Three marks. Forever hers. She wanted a nap. But she also wanted to be fucked by him. She usually thought of it in a different way, but the primeval urges of the forest were still too close. She swayed. "Here, my lady. " Standing, he put his hands on her shoulders to urge her to lie down in the tub again. This time he stretched out be- hind her so she was lying in the cradle of his body, her upper torso propped on his chest, head relaxed on his shoulder. He captured the pitcher and poured water over her breasts, using the interference of his hand to slow the stream, make it trickle over her. Water ran over her small curves, then rejoined the swirls of soapy foam and flecks of lavender and rose petals floating in the tub and clinging to her. He had one knee propped up, allowing her to lean her body into that side of him. When she plucked a rose petal off his thigh, she turned enough to mold it to his bottom lip. He went quiet under her touch, his attention dwelling on her face, her mouth, her chin. He let her hear every murmured desire of his body that came into his mind. For her part, she let him know how beautiful she thought he was, inside and out. How for the first time in so long, she didn't feel alone. That she trusted him. It suff used him with emotion, but he kept up the pouring, let- ting the water flow even more slowly over her breasts, concentrat- ing on the nipple areas so she began to anticipate, her body lift ing to the stimulation. Reaching over, he turned the jets of the Jacuzzi on, working from his current position to angle them for her com- fort, along her rib cage, the outer muscles of her thighs. When he turned her in his arms, he put her onto his lap and lifted her legs so her calves rested on the slick surface of the wall built around the tub. As he eased her toward the side of the tub, he could tell from the desire that flashed through her expression she understood his plan a moment before he positioned her in front of one of the un- derwater jets. Let your eunuch make sure you're slick and ready for that lover of yours, my lady.

A dead-center hit, right on the clit already engorged by his soapy fingers. As she bucked up with a gasp, he held her, giving her an an- chor with an arm over her chest, his forearm pressing down on the tops of her breasts, increasing their sensitivity to the water that lapped across them from her convulsive movements. He clasped her upper arm, holding her in position while he reached under her with the other hand and palmed her ass, lifting her up to an angle where she was even more vulnerable to the spray. "Oh, gods . . . " Her hand gripped his thigh, using more of her strength. He responded to the pain by easing his fingers between her buttocks, playing with her rim as he worked her against the jets, let- ting the punishing flow of water drive her. Her breasts, just the tips, were out of the water, jutting hard and erect from the instant, almost punishing level of arousal. Go over, my lady. Let it go. Let me see you come. It shuddered through her exhausted body the way surf would wash over her if she lay on a beach within the tide line. He wanted the climax to ripple over every exposed nerve, one nerve at a time. She made soft, keening noises of pleasure, pressing the side of her face into his shoulder and nipping at him, holding on. As she undulated, his cock pressed into her hip, eager to serve her, and he could tell that spurred her even higher. The power of denial, mingled with the knowledge she could have him whenever she wished. She was still shuddering with all of it when he let her sink back into the cradle of his lap, removing his fingers. "My lady . . . " He whispered it huskily, holding her close, almost as close as the interlocking pieces of their minds. He prayed to whatever god would listen that he would never fail her, the woman who was the answer to a lifetime of questions and needs. In her mind, there were images of dark and light, wonder and happiness, violence and pain. His lady had led the proverbial inter- esting life. She was his destiny. He'd known it from the first time he'd seen her. Whenever, whatever lifetime that was. All lifetimes. At length, she slid down against him, curling against his upper chest, stretching out her legs so they intertwined with his. She fell asleep that way, unconcerned about his arousal pinioned under the soft flesh of her right buttock.

Or rather, highly cognizant of it and indulging a Mistress's pleasure in making him wait. However, he found himself oddly content to stay in this position, be her bed and hold her above the water. Though she had no danger of drowning, he didn't want her sleep disturbed. While he didn't know the mood she'd be in when she surfaced, since she was capricious in that regard, he had no illusion tonight's magical connection would continue forever. The night a servant re- ceived his third mark was a honeymoon period. Even if his lady's mood prevailed, because of the illness she suffered and the chal- lenges they faced, this honeymoon would be far shorter than either of them would wish.

Returning to the present and far less pleasant matters, Jacob focused on what Debra had told him. When Lyssa had resisted giving him the third mark, he'd thought it had been grief and stubborn guilt. She'd lost her husband, Rex, and her servant, Thomas, within the past two years. While she still hadn't shared the full story with him, Jacob knew Rex was the reason Thomas had gotten the fatal disease that somehow infected Lyssa. Debra had given him a horrific idea of how Rex had accomplished it. Lyssa had killed her husband herself when she found out he was responsible for Thomas's death. She'd then had to make the vampire world believe the honorable and always loyal Thomas had poisoned and staked Rex and she'd killed the servant as punishment. Despite her Machiavellian nature, she was also a woman. It was a web of lies and deceptions that would have broken any woman's heart. In the end, Jacob realized she didn't want to give him the third mark because he would die with her. She'd been protecting him. So he'd bullied, coaxed, nagged, cajoled. In what he knew she still considered a weak moment on her part, he'd convinced her. His choice. He wasn't afraid of death. He was afraid of being where he couldn't protect her. Love her. And with the third mark, she could draw from his energy to help prolong her own life and give her more of the precious time she needed.

If only Brian and his fellow vampire science geeks had known about Thomas, been able to study him until his death. Andrev was a born vampire, from human and vampire parents. Lyssa was born vampire and Fey, the oldest living vampire with powers no other vampire had . . . Perhaps it would go differently for her. If only they didn't have to hide it. But vampires like Carnal were trying to undermine everything she'd built. Carnal, the vampire who'd been made by Lyssa's late husband, Rex. Carnal preferred a world where humans would be cattle for the bloodthirsty whims of the vampires. As the number of born vampires had decreased, the Vampire Council had allowed more vampires to be made, against her advice. A growing number of these made vampires, whose impulse control and bloodlust were not as well controlled as their older, born breth- ren, were impatient with the many Council rules. Closing his eyes again, Jacob pressed on the bridge of his nose, relieving the tension building in his head with his thoughts. The vampire world existed in prosperous harmony in the shadows of the human-dominated world primarily because of her efforts over the past several centuries to establish the current Vampire Council structure. The elaborate ritual courtesies and rules had created a bal- ance between vampire bloodlust and blood need. In vampire terms, that form of governance was young. It had only been in existence for the past couple of centuries, following some bloody territory wars to enforce it, of which she'd been a terrifying part. She was the Council's muscle. The last direct descendant of roy- alty among the vampires, she didn't sit on the Council but was con- sidered an important advisory member of it. Over a thousand years old, the limits of her strength and actual age unknown, she was all too aware that when she died, the Council would have to manage on its own against those like Carnal. She had over fift y vampire fugitives she'd granted asylum in her territory. The upcoming Vampire Council Gathering was the vital turning point. At the event that occurred every five years, she would petition for permanent asylum for them, as well as reinforce the strength of the Council in any way possible with her presence as their queen.

If she got through the Council Gathering without suspicion, even if she died soon thereafter–and his mind shied from that thought– the illusion that she was still around would be in place long enough for her vampires to position themselves accordingly. It was not un- usual for a vampire of her stature to go into seclusion for extended periods, communicating with other vampires only through her ser- vant or other trusted agents. She could conceivably be gone five years before the truth was known. He was helping her put all the pieces in place for that illusion if needed, and she would consolidate it with the contacts she would make at the Gathering, confirming who her allies might be. Places her fugitives and even her legitimate territory vampires might go if they had to flee her Region. She was finally trusting him to be her ally, to guard her back, while he wanted nothing more than to focus fully on what would cure her of this damn disease, keep her alive and vibrant forever. "You do realize I could have slit your throat three times while you've been sitting here daydreaming?"

Jacob's eyes snapped open. The man sitting in the chair across from him didn't complement his surroundings the way Debra had. He wore a pair of worn jeans, a dark T-shirt and a bomber jacket Jacob was certain hid an array of weaponry. Probably a nine millimeter and loaded wrist gauntlets. There'd be a knife scabbard on his left calf, another down the back. He hadn't had his hair cut in a while, and the shave looked a couple of days old. Still, the glittering blue eyes of his brother were as vibrant as his own, though Gideon's face held far more lines and his hair was threaded with white. The result of lifestyle, not age. Only a handspan of years separated them. That and a whole hell of a lot of other things. "Gideon. " "I thought about shooting you right here, but I was curious. I wanted to know why you've lost your fucking mind. "

He ignored the startled and offended looks of nearby patrons. Rising, he jerked his thumb toward the door. "Get your ass up and we'll go somewhere and talk where we can get a late breakfast. You're buying. " He strode toward the door with apparently no doubt Jacob would follow. Jacob reflected darkly that there appeared to be far too many people in his life who thought they could order him about. This day was just getting better and better.